How the County Commissioners took control of the jail

escambia commission
I went through our reports from last spring and summer on the Department of Justice report, the Escambia County Sheriff’s budget request to meet that report and how the county commissioners voted to take back the jail. Here are my notes of what transpired:

On April 30, 2013, Sheriff Morgan presented his budget. He asked for $6.3 million to hire 83 detention deputies & 12 detention assistants. He also wanted to bring up starting detention deputy pay to match Road Prison deputy pay at an additional cost of $658,409.

On May 21, 2013, the Department of Justice released its findings that agreed with the staffing needs proposed by JCI. At a special meeting on May 29, the county commission voted for Commissioner Gene Valentino to head the meetings between Touart and county staff and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office on answering the DOJ report.

Coming out of the meeting, Valentino blasted the jail staff in an interview with WEAR TV 3: “I’ve got reports coming back to me that some are sitting there playing computer games on their laptops and not even addressing prisoners. Let’s talk about those things first before you ask me for money.”

Sheriff Morgan took up for his staff. He requested that Valentino recuse himself from the Department of Justice Working Group based on his disparaging remarks regarding the deputies and staff at the Escambia County Jail.

Morgan wrote that such behavior was a third degree felony and he opened a criminal investigation based on Valentino’s statements as a material witness. The commissioner was asked to speak with an investigator under oath about his allegations.

Valentino refused to provide information to assist in this felony investigation. With the assistance of the State Attorney’s Office, Commissioner Valentino was subpoenaed to provide information to identify his sources so the investigation could continue. Commissioner Valentino, upon being interviewed by the State Attorney’s Office, admitted he had one and only one source. This source was a convicted felon and former inmate who had last been inside the jail in 2009.

Three companies contacted the county about making proposals on running the county jail:

– Corrections Corporation of America
– Management & Training Corporation
– Geo Global, Inc.

In a June 13 letter, Sheriff Morgan wrote that county officials had failed to acknowledge the gravity of the current jail situation. He was upset that Touart had been pursuing private contractors to run the facility, while maintaining the “guise of good faith negotiation” to deal with the DOJ report.

“In view of the fact that the BOCC is not sincerely negotiating for the funding required by the Sheriff to properly administer the jail, continued negotiation between the Sheriff and the County is futile,” wrote Sheriff Morgan.

The letter was sent after Commission Chairman Valentino refused to allow Morgan to address the board during its committee of the whole meeting.

Two days later Commissioner Grover Robinson responded saying in a letter that he would not support a tax increase for the jail or privatization. However, he was open to the BCC taking over the jail.

Then the Touart, Valentino and Robinson focused on the ECSO internal services fund – an escrow used to pay accrued leave of the agency’s employees. Their argument was that could pay for the needed detention deputies. Morgan said he would pay the employees for their accrued leave at time of the jail transfer.

On June 20, Interim County Administrator George Touart said during the morning’s agenda review session, “Commissioners, we have come, I guess, to a crossroads. [I’m] asking you to make a decision on what your thoughts are, or what you want to do with the county jail.”

County Attorney Alison Rogers told the commissioners that DOJ was “pretty easy to work with.”

Morgan had gotten his budget increase for the jail down to $5.2 million. County staff could come up with only $2.6 million.

That night the county commission voted 4-1 to take over the jail. Commissioner Lumon May was the only negative vote.

After the final vote, Valentino told the staff, “No blinking on this one. This has got to work like clockwork.”